I managed to read over 60 books last year, so getting that down to just ten for this list certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to do. These aren’t necessarily the ten ‘best’ books I read last year (if they were then I would definitely have to replace Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer with Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea for a start) but they are my favourite ten and the ten that I most enjoyed reading.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.
If you liked the film Midnight in Paris then you’re going to love A Moveable Feast and if you haven’t seen the film Midnight in Paris then you should go and watch it right now. I know this isn’t supposed to be about Midnight in Paris but it really is a great film.
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of life in Paris in the early 20s and includes my favourite story of all time; of Hemingway taking F. Scott Fitzgerald to look at statues in the Louvre in order to prove that Zelda was lying about Scott having a smaller-than-average penis. If that doesn’t sell this book to you, I don’t know what will. I didn’t know a great deal about Hemingway before reading this book, aside from his being an excellent writer and a cantankerous alcoholic, and to be honest I’m not sure I know a great deal more after reading it, but there’s a warmth to the writing that almost makes you feel like Hemingway is sat right next to you, telling you about James Joyce and Gertrude Stein with a smile on his face and a drink in his hand. The tone is wistful and reflective, the setting is Paris so therefore magical, and the writing is, as always with Hemingway, just perfect.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
I’ve been a fan of the film version of A Clockwork Orange since I first saw it on TV when I was about fifteen and I borrowed the book from a friend during our first year of university but didn’t end up reading it until we had finished our third year. I’m really bad at borrowing things. When I did finally read it though, I fell in love straight away. It’s feels a little bit weird to say that I ‘fell in love’ with a story about such a violent and downright horrible protagonist, but the thing that makes A Clockwork Orange so great is the way that Burgess presents the world and society in the book to almost make you believe that Alex is merely a victim of his surroundings. You see the awful things that Alex does but you also see the awful things that are done to him and the way that it’s all normalised by his contemporaries. The most disturbing thing of all is that it’s almost impossible not to like Alex, despite his fondness for ‘ultraviolence’, and at times you can’t help but feel almost sorry for him. A Clockwork Orange is fantastically written and part of that is the made up futuristic slang that Alex favours, which is a little confusing at first but a real delight once you find that you start to understand it. Or it was for me anyway.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler.
I reviewed this book in full for my university’s student newspaper back in May, and you can read that review here.
I’ve been a big fan of Daniel Handler, otherwise known as Lemony Snicket, for a long time and Who Could That Be at This Hour? the first book in Lemony Snicket’s newest series All The Wrong Questions very nearly made it onto this list too. If you’ve ever read any of his books then I’m sure you know what sort of writing to expect in Why We Broke Up, and even if you haven’t I’m sure the title will give you some clue as to what it’s about. Why We Broke Up takes the form of a letter, from a teenage girl to her ex-boyfriend, detailing why they broke up, and recounting important stories about the items that are illustrated beautifully throughout the book by Maira Kalman. The illustrations are gorgeous, the writing is like poetry, and the story is a little refreshing amongst other contemporary YA literature.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Speaking of refreshing stories amongst other contemporary YA literature! I’m sure you’ve had about enough of people talking about how great Eleanor & Park is and if you haven’t then I’m here to fix that. Eleanor & Park so thoroughly distracted me when I was reading it that I barely thought about or did anything else and ended up reading the whole thing in about two days. I loved everything about this book. I loved the characters and the story and it felt like a privilege to get to watch Eleanor and Park fall in love. Most of all though, I loved the writing. There are two Rainbow Rowell books on this list, and there were very nearly three until I realised that would be entirely unfair to everyone else, but this one is almost definitely the best. I could talk about Eleanor & Park for hours but honestly I just want to say GO READ IT and let you discover how amazing it is for yourself.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
This was actually the first book I read in 2013 so forgive me if I don’t remember much of it. I do remember that I really enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it enough that I reviewed this one in my university’s student newspaper too. To be completely honest you’re definitely better off clicking on that link and reading that review because the book was a lot fresher in my mind when I wrote that than it is now. Warm Bodies is about a Zombie named ‘R’ and a human named ‘Julie’. Yes, it’s pretty much Romeo and Juliet with zombies and no, I didn’t totally get that until I saw the film. It is, of course, a romance but the most interesting part of Warm Bodies for me, and something I wish they had explored more in the film, was the society the zombies built and the strange ways in which they try to replicate their human lives, without fully remembering them. It’s also incredibly funny. Warm Bodies is one of those rare books that I would probably recommend to anyone. As long as they don’t mind the whole brain-eating thing.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I honestly didn’t expect to like The Raven Boys as much as I did. I mean, the main character is called Blue, her whole family are psychics, and for as long as she can remember Blue has been told that if she kisses her true love, he will die. For some reason that made me wary. I was so wrong. Even the name Blue stops feeling silly when you actually meet her family, and as for the Raven Boys themselves, well they’re certainly an interesting bunch. It did take me a little while to get into The Raven Boys but once I did I was completely hooked. I’m not great at putting things into genres but I personally would call this series ‘YA contemporary magical realism’. Like I said, I’m not great at genres, but this book is great. I also read the second book in the series, The Dream Thieves, last year, and it is every bit as good as the first book.
The Forgotten by Saruuh Kelsey
The Forgotten is even more difficult to put into a genre, and you’ve already seen how terrible I am at that game. It’s sort of YA steam-punk/historical/dystopian/science-fiction and balances between Victorian London and the futuristic Forgotten London with a whole host of interesting and diverse characters narrating. The wide cast of characters was a little confusing at first but after a few chapters it becomes a lot easier to keep track and once the parallel stories started to really take shape all I really cared about was finding out what happened next and how the stories linked together anyway. Even though there are a lot of characters, they’re all incredibly well rounded and there isn’t any trouble telling them apart, which I sometimes find a problem in books with so many characters, but not this one. It’s the first in a series of free ebooks called The Lux Guardians and can be downloaded from pretty much any ebook provider.
Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender
I talked about Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer in my September book reviews, where I admitted that it isn’t exactly the best book I’ve read this year but my gosh, if it isn’t one of the ones I enjoyed the most. There’s Paris, there’s the murderous ghost of Marie Antoinette, there’s romance, and there are bitchy high school students. If you took out the storyline with Marie Antoinette’s ghost then it would become another standard novel about a high school girl struggling between lying so that she can stay friends with the ‘cool girls’ or being true to herself and what she wants and that book would not have made it onto this list. But luckily Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer totally does have a storyline in which Marie Antoinette’s ghost is out and about in Paris seeking revenge, and it’s awesome.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Again, I talked about Fangirl in my September book reviews. Although this is the second Rainbow Rowell book on this list, Fangirl is definitely different to Eleanor & Park. Cath, the main character, is just starting college, and she’s struggling with being separated from her twin sister for the first time ever (Wren, who chose not to be Cath’s roommate, even though they go to the same college), her anxiety about starting fresh and meeting new people on her own, her new roommate who doesn’t seem to like her very much, and her busy online fandom life. Cath write fanfiction, in fact she writes incredibly popular fanfiction, and she has some trouble knowing where that’s appropriate (online) and where it isn’t (in her college assignments). I was a little worried when I heard the premise for Fangirl that it might have ended up being maybe a little condescending towards fandoms and maybe even present Cath’s fanfiction as a problem that she needs to abandon for her own Greater Good, and I’m sure there are many other writers who would have written it this way, but it’s obvious that Rainbow Rowell not only understands fandom culture but that she appreciates it too. You know, writing about it here has just made me want to go and read it again. I highly recommend this one, particularly if you, like me, are a bit of a fangirl.
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
I only just started reading graphic novels this year and Maus was really the first one I read (I guess I wanted to start off with something light…), which may not have been the best choice because I’m not sure it gets much better than this. I’m sure you’ve heard of Maus, which is based upon Spiegelman’s father’s experience during The Holocaust, and the fact that it was the first graphic novel to win the pulitzer prize, but really none of what you’ve heard does it justice. In Maus the Jewish people are drawn as mice, the Nazis as cats, and the Polish people as pigs, but the way the story is told is incredibly human. There is a frame, around Spiegelman’s father’s stories of World War 2, of his father telling him the stories, and of how his father’s experiences in the war affected Spiegelman himself in the present, which is every bit as honest and poignant as the memories themselves. It feels a little strange to say that I ‘enjoyed’ Maus and to put it on the same list as Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer and Fangirl but it is, without a doubt, one of the best books I read last year, and one that everyone should read.